Monday, September 16, 2013

La Ruta De Las Xanas

By: Michael Sharifi, Intensive Spanish Language in Oviedo, Spain

Not much of a city boy, so when offered the opportunity on my day off to go for a Sunday hike the question became a day of absolution. I felt indifferent to my time Spain and by the third week my routine in Utah became a distant memory. The language switched from English to Spanish, my suburbia home into an apartment building, and my fifteen-inch pillow top Beautyrest scaled down to a four-inch IKEA mattress, as did my shower to the size of a small closet. My diet adapted to the local cuisine; artisan breads, a cheese wheel that sat on the counter, and vino tinto from a northern region of Spain. A passion for Spanish wine lingers around Rioja in fact the University of La Rioja was the first campus to offer a Bachelor of Oenology, traditional winemaking.

I ate giant calamari rings with lemon and drank Sidra shots to wash it down, a local cider served in a waterfall affect that stimulates the ingredients for a quick single swig. To live Spain was to eat its food. I watched two tiny elderly ladies on no noteworthy afternoon eat a stacked plate of fried chicken, bread, cheese, two bottles of sidra, a plate of Jamón, desert and Crème De Mint liquor served as a bookend. At the same time I watched my friend across the table drink an entire picture of sangria.

At the peak of our hike stood a restaurant in a village, only a handful of houses in the mountains, our destination for lunch and rumors of a seven-course meal. We met early in the morning at the parade de autobús close to the mall. On our way to the bus Maddy and I stopped at a popular new restaurant Venti-Seis Grado and grabbed breakfast and some snacks for the hike. A few acquaintances requested directions to Venti-Seis Grado upon eyesight of our food. Stragglers showed up wearing disco teca clothes from a night of debauchery. Our University of Utah instructor Tim brought his chef as our hiking guide. Almost every night Tim ate at his restaurant located in the old part of Oviedo, so Felix for all purposes was his chef. I visited Felix’s restaurant and returned after tasting his cooking. On my fist visit I sat at the bar nursing a San Miguel when his wife came in with a bag of fresh herbs and some flowers from her garden, she gave Maddy a rose and me a handful of basil scent from her fingers. “Bueno, no.” The menu listed an international cuisine from the Morocco, Spain, and France, a delight of magical flavors and textures, unique to the surrounding restaurants.

The couple Euros for the bus took us through the winding hills, south of Oviedo, past small towns, and mountain villages. The bus window framed picturesque murals of green hillsides and red roof cottages. The driver raced on the narrow road, as I held tight to the railing, my body weaved back and forth with the road. My eyes attempted desperately to capture the passing scenes and soak in the color of light into memory.

Just another stop some twenty miles along the road, an odd number of us casually stepped off the bus. We took a path for the next leg of our journey that covered a forgotten railroad. Pace and conversation divided us into smaller groups. I fell behind taking pictures while Felix led us in both age and speed. I caught up to the group at La Ruta De Las Xanas trailhead where I place my camera on a timer for a group photo.

I kept stride with Tim on the trail. He oozed a plethora of Spanish history. I knew Oviedo was once the original capital for Spain but I did not know Asturia at one time stood as the last remaining borders of Spain. Only 4,094 sq. miles, about the size of Salt Lake City to Midway, remained of Spain in 722. Tim theorized, if Pelayo lost the war then Santa Clara, La Pinta, La Santa Maria never pass the American waters and Spanish, the forth most popular language, dies at the foot of the conquered. But the Spanish did win and a statue of the King Pelayo, who defeated the Moors, stands tall next to a special cathedral in the mountains called Covadonga and the wood cross Pelayo carried into battle sits behind locked gates in the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo wrapped in gold and embedded with jewels.

We stepped out of the trees into a clear vision of the church above on the hillside. Just over the ridge we find the small village and the lone restaurant. Multiple plates of food were set on the long table. Thirteen of us sat around the table in a remote village high in the Asturian Mountains sharing bread. Sobermesa defines this moment in time when friends eat, drink and converse with equal importance.

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